Date: Wed, 14 Jan 1998 08:21:06 -0500

From: "ALAN BARAGONA (by way of Alan Baragona baragonasa[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE] )"


Subject: Very TAN--Giving Finger

Coincidentally, the very day ADS-L members were discussing possible

anachronisms in Amistad and Titanic, I read Roger Ebert's review of the

latter in which he questioned whether "giving the finger" was a practice as

early as 1912. I responded, as you can see below, and received this

follow-up query from Ebert. Unfortunately, it doesn't have anything to do

with language, unless you can come up with early terms for the practice he

describes, but I told him I'd forward his question to you.

----- Forwarded Message -----


FROM: Roger Ebert, REBERT

DATE: 1/13/98, 10:18 PM

Re: Titanic: Giving Finger

Dear Alan,

I got your address via the CompuServe Member Directory and used your

message in the Answer Man for 1/11/98 (on CIS and at Here;s how it ran:

Q. You wrote in your review of "Titanic," "At one point Rose gives

Lovejoy the finger; did young ladies do that in 1912?" This very question

came up during an American Dialect Society's online discussion of

anachronisms in "Amistad" (where characters say "hello" despite the fact

that the word was not used until the invention of the telephone).

Apparently, the gesture has been used at least since the last century

(there are photographs of 19C people giving the finger), although I'd say

it's unlikely that a young lady would have done so in 1912. (Alan Baragona,

Staunton, Va.)

A. Now I have another challenge for the anachronism-hunters at the

American Dialect Society. It may be a little off their specialty, but ask

them to do their best. In "The Wings of the Dove," a film based on a Henry

James novel, two of the characters make love outdoors while braced up

against a pillar in Venice. The novel is set earlier, but the film moves

the action up to about 1910. In what year, according to the society's best

thinking, did young ladies of the sort Henry James writes about begin to

participate in such practices?


I'm not sure if Ebert is asking about 1) having sex against a pillar, 2)

having sex in a public place, or 3) upper crust girls doing this sort of

thing. Since it's apparent that prostitutes and country wenches certainly

practiced the first two, I assume this is really a question about class

behavior. I responded with Aubrey's famous story about Walter Raleigh and

the "Mayd of Honour" up against a tree in a wood, but I'm not sure this is

public enough to serve as an answer.

If anyone is prurient enough to know something about this, I'll pass your

answer along. If you want me to tell Ebert to come back when he has a

damned question about language usage, I'll do that, too.

Alan B.